Hooray! January and February are long gone and the cool spring season is here. Gardeners know that this is the best time to prepare and plant for your cool season spring vegetable garden. Here’s the second in a series of articles of an ABCs listing of what to plant in a spring vegetable garden from an expert on the subject.
Also, watch the video on Planting Vegetables in the Spring. on this page.
P. Allen Smith, gardening expert suggestions
P. Allen Smith, renowned gardening professional, in his web article on planting a spring vegetable garden, says, “Cool season vegetables are those that can thrive during the shorter days and cool temperatures of spring and fall.” He adds that many a vegetable such as kohlrabi and kale in reality cultivate better flavor when pinched by frost. Lettuce, collards, snow peas, cabbage and broccoli are a just a few examples of a cool spring season vegetable. Allen further adds, as mentioned in our first article, that many summer season vegetable garden favorites like okra, squash and tomatoes want prolonged, hot days to yield.
Place seed orders early, sow seeds indoors if too cold outside
In case you missed our first article, Allen suggests the first thing to do is place your cool season vegetable garden seed order. If your order purchase arrives before spring starts in your region, it might still be too cold to plant the garden seeds outside, but numerous a cool season vegetable can be started from seed indoors 6 - 8 weeks prior to the frost free date in your growing zone area. Allen tells us that a few vegetable garden transplants can be planted outside a few weeks before the frost free date as well.
Deep South gardeners’ resource
For those gardeners fortunate to live in the Deep South where growing seasons are year round, Allen adds,
Now I foresee the comments from readers in the Deep South already, “This doesn't apply to me!” Well, you are right. You are already mid-way through your cool season vegetable garden time frame, but there is still time to plant. A great resource for you is www.FloridaGardener.com.
He says that gardeners in the northern colder regions have such a small growing season that they will plant their cool and warm season vegetables almost side by side.
Know your zone frost dates, cover vegetables if unexpected freeze
Allen advises to know when the last frost date is in your growing zone before you start sowing seeds and planting. This determines when your spring growing season begins. Many on-line sites and local nursery and retailers will offer this information, Allen provides the zone chart below for the readers use.
These are average dates that may differ slightly year to year but they give you a basic window of time in which you can create a planting schedule. Another good source of local, reliable advice is your area's County Cooperative Extension Service or check with knowledgeable members of local gardening clubs.
He also reminds us vegetables can all be wiped out by a sudden, severe drop in temperature, so it's important to be prepared
…with something to drape over the crops if an overnight cold snap is expected. Simply cover your crops with newspaper, old sheets or frost blankets. Just remember to remove the covering the next morning.
Last Frost Dates by Zone
Zone 3 1 May / 31 May
Zone 4 1 May / 30 May
Zone 5 30 Mar / 30 Apr
Zone 6 30 Mar / 30 Apr
Zone 7 30 Mar / 30 Apr
Zone 8 28 Feb / 30 Mar
Zone 9 30 Jan / 28 Feb
Zone 10 30 Jan or before
Zone 11 Free of Frost throughout the year.
ABCs what to plant in spring vegetable garden, D-P
- English Peas – Direct sow in the garden 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area. They will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees F. Seedlings will survive a late snow and short periods of temperatures down to 25 degrees F.
- Kale – You can plant kale in early spring, about 3 to 5 weeks before the last frost date. Cover with frost blankets during severe cold. Similar to collards very fertile soil is ideal to encourage rapid growth and tender leaves.
- Kohlrabi – Kohlrabi is similar to a turnip, but is actually related to cabbage. Set plants out 4 weeks before the last frost date. Protect young plants from freezing temperatures with a frost blanket. Cool temperatures enhance the sweet flavor.
- Lettuce – Sow lettuce any time in spring when the soil is workable. Lettuce is more sensitive to cold than other cool season vegetables and should definitely be covered during cold snaps. The ideal day time temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees. Fertilize with fish emulsion, which is high in nitrogen. Lettuce will grow in partial shade and actually appreciates the shelter from intense late spring sun.
- Onions – Onions can be grown from sets, small bulbs, or transplants, which look like scallions and come in a bundle of 60 or so. Either method should be planted in early spring as soon as the soil is workable. Long-day varieties are suitable for Northern gardens and short-day varieties can be planted in the South. Place time release fertilizer in the planting hole so that it is close to the roots. Follow the fertilizer's label directions.
- Potatoes – Greening of grass is a good indicator of when to plant potato sets, dried potato pieces with 2 to 3 eyes. In my zone 7 garden that occurs in March. Soil should be loose, fertile and well drained. As the tubers mature, cover with soil to prevent burning.
Allen’s Good to Know Tips:
- Vegetables need 7 to 8 hours of full sun daily. Cool season vegetables get by on 6, some can even be planted in partial shade.
- Framed Bed Soil Recipe: 50% existing garden soil, 25% aged manure, 25% compost or humus
- Gardeners in tropical regions plant & grow cool season vegetables in fall and winter.
Source: P. Allen Smith
P. Allen Smith is an award-winning designer, gardening and lifestyle expert. He is the host of two public television programs, P. Allen Smith's Garden Home, P. Allen Smith's Garden to Table and the syndicated 30-minute show P. Allen Smith Gardens.
Smith is one of America's most recognized and respected garden and design experts, providing ideas and inspiration through multiple media venues.